Wyclef Jean brings sizzle to Haiti election
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - August 20, 2010 -- An anxious public waited Friday to hear whether hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean would be allowed to run for president of Haiti, but one thing is already certain: The singer has brought sizzle to the election, attracting fresh attention to a country still devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
Dozens of police were on guard against possible violence outside the electoral commission, which was expected to release its list of candidates who meet Haiti's eligibility rules. The decision has already been delayed once this week because of uncertainty over candidate qualifications; Jean's supporters suspect members of Haiti's political elite have been trying behind the scenes to end his campaign.
The Haitian-born musician moved from a compound outside the capital to a hotel around the corner from the electoral commission and his family issued a statement saying he was still hoping that he would be accepted as a candidate either later Friday or over the weekend.
He earlier told The Associated Press that his candidacy was being challenged over the requirement that everyone who runs must have lived in the country for five years before the Nov. 28 election.
Jean, whose parents brought him to the United States as a child, has lived off and on in Haiti in recent years, like many wealthy Haitians. He says he can't meet the residency in part because he has been a roving ambassador, appointed by President Rene Preval in 2007.
A Haitian newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, on Thursday cited an electoral commission member as saying that Jean did not make the list. Officials with the agency declined to comment on the report and a lawyer for the musician, Jean Tholbert Alexis, insisted it was wrong.
"I can confirm to you that Wyclef Jean will be on the list of candidates for president," Alexis told journalists in the lobby of the commission, located in a former gym since its previous home was destroyed in the quake.
"I have my own sources, and based on the meeting Wyclef had with President Preval yesterday, I can tell you that he will be on the list," Alexis assured.
Jean, who gained famed as a member of the hip-hop musical group Fugees before building a solo career, has no political organization, not much of a following beyond his fans of his music and only a vague platform, casting himself as an advocate of Haiti's struggling youth and saying he will ask reconstruction donors to help the country's dysfunctional education system.
He also has faced persistent criticism over alleged financial mismanagement at the charity he founded, Yele Haiti.
On the other hand, he has generated global attention to a race in which almost no one outside Haiti could even name any of the candidates.
"If he hadn't been involved, today, no one would be talking about candidates in the Haitian presidential election," said Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University in Houston.
The 40-year-old singer's fame and wealth instantly made him a formidable candidate in the desperately poor Caribbean nation he left as a boy - though some Haitians question the seriousness of his run.
"I don't think he's a politician at all," said Etienne St. Cyr, a pastor who helps at a camp for homeless earthquake survivors at the Petionville Country Club. "Maybe he's not what we need right now."
St. Cyr said Jean has not won over the people camped in squalid tents on the slope of a golf course, noting they already have allegiances to established political parties and the singer has not visited the camp.
Analysts say it is difficult to assess what kind of support Jean has beyond his mainly young and urban fans, but as a well-funded wild card, he has made more-established politicians nervous. Earlier this week, Jean said he had received death threats from somebody who called and told him to get out of Haiti.
The winner of the Nov. 28 election will take charge of Haiti's earthquake recovery, coordinating billions of aid dollars in a country with a history of political turmoil and corruption. January's earthquake killed an estimated 300,000 people and left the capital, Port-au-Prince, in ruins.
The devastation from the earthquake, coupled with frustration over a weak government response, have created an opening for a messianic outsider like Jean, said Robert Fatton Jr., a Haiti expert at the University of Virginia.
"The very fact that he is taken seriously when, in fact, he has no preparation to be president is an indication that the whole country, in particular the youth, looks at the typical Haitian population as a bankrupt kind of species," Fatton said.
Fatton said he suspects the delay in announcing the candidate list, which was initially supposed to come out last Tuesday, owes to a struggle among the political elite, with some trying to keep Jean from running.
Jean is among nearly three dozen candidates who have filed paperwork to run for president.
At the start of his campaign he stepped down from the Yele Haiti charity, which was accused of pre-quake financial improprieties that benefited the singer. Yele Haiti, which raised more than $9 million after the earthquake, hired a new accounting firm and Jean has said it was working to improve its organization.
Jones, the professor at Rice, said that if officials do not accept Jean as a candidate, he can still influence the election by helping to mobilize the youth vote.
"The other candidates should try to get him on their team," he said.
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